House approves bill easing hydropower development rules

The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, H.R. 2842, was hailed by Republicans this week as a way to encourage hydropower development in western states that today face environmental restrictions. In Tuesday debate, they argued that these restrictions only delay the development of this power at a time when energy prices are spiking, and that there is no real risk of environmental damage.

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"What it promises is this: at precisely no cost to taxpayers, freeing up absolutely clean electricity on a scale so vast, that it would take several hydroelectric dams to duplicate," Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said on Tuesday.

The bill would exempt small hydropower installations from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), language that Democrats said was the major reason they must oppose the bill.

On Wednesday, the House rejected an amendment from Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) to strike this language related to NEPA, in a 168-253 vote.

House passage sends the bill to a Senate that, once again, is unlikely to consider it at all.